20-something Tobes is a manchild: his mum pays his phone bill, he struggles to hold down his garden centre job because he doesn’t really believe he should have to support himself, and he ignores problems endlessly, hoping they’ll just go away. Like that lump. He’s been ignoring that particular problem for a while now.
Paines Plough’s charmingly fluro Roundabout encircles the characters in Luke Norris’ three-hander as they, and we, bear down on Tobes, played with winning bafflement by Andy Rush. Meanwhile, Remy Beasley and Richard Corgan are both excellent as an array of similar-but-different characters: she plays mainly women he’s attracted to or who think he’s an idiot or both (that particular Venn diagram is nearly a circle), while Corgan tends to play slightly more accomplished men whom Tobes finds somewhat emasculating.
As much a celebration of growing up as an examination of what it means to be a man (or to ‘man up’), Norris cleverly holds several strings, showing us the idiocy of masculine posturing while exploring its more important counterpart: Tobes needs to become a man only in that he needs to become a fucking adult. His gender’s irrelevant.
While it’s vital to present us with a character we can enjoy watching change, and Norris does that admirably, the natural drawback is that for much of the play the central character – who’s in every scene – is a bit of a bellend. Though you do sympathise with Tobes a bit, everything works against that: he’s whiny, graceless, ungrateful, and that’s the point of the play but can make it feel like hard work at times. The risk of having an unlikeable lead is always how much time you make your audience spend with that person.
Similarly, Norris can occasionally count a bit too much on how desperate we are to see Tobes learn a lesson. I mean, PRETTY desperate, but the way some of the characters talk to him even about cancer – that shadow-casting, conversation-stopping, un-talk-about-able C-bomb – borders on unrealistic in a couple of brutal scenes. Still, it’s both morally and narratively satisfying for Norris to show that it’s people, not angels, who have cancer scares, and this makes the play work all the better as a semi-manifesto for the importance of self examination.
Not that it’s all, or even really mostly, about cancer: in many ways a vital story about learning to take responsibility for yourself, Growth is smart and funny and frequently absolutely fearless, with excellent performances.